President Obama and leaders of Congress have reached a deal to increase the debt ceiling. Without such a deal the economy would spiral out of control and a worldwide depression would likely result. This is how tenuous our economic position is in the post-Bush era. At the same time, the deal (and not all the details are known) apparently calls for cuts in domestic spending that are so deep that they would betray our most cherished values of a nation and put at risk the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. A vote in favor of the debt ceiling "compromise" might be necessary but could also be fairly labeled as morally questionable. We've been saved from a hurricane only to be thrown into a tornado.
We all know that Barack Obama was dealt a terrible hand by coming in as the president who had to clean-up George W. Bush's mess. In the midst of gruesome political conditions he managed to expand health care for 30 million Americans - though that achievement is now in some doubt as a part of this compromise could result in new cuts to health care programs - and has ended combat operations in Iraq, a war that never should have been fought.
At the same time, it seems that on the big issues (the public option, the Bush tax cuts, the debt ceiling) this president is willing to allow to GOP to set the terms of the debate - the agenda on how we'll move forward as a nation - and that undermines his ability to achieve the goals he articulated in 2008. President Obama might just get himself re-elected in 2012 as the "great compromiser" but his legacy might also include continued high unemployment and poverty, and a fractured nation that believes change and hope will never touch their lives, because what he promised in 2008 cannot be achieved with GOP policies he advances through "compromise."
The campaign of 2012 needs to be used by President Obama as a reset. He needs to use the election to offer a vision for where we need to be as a people. That vision has to stand in stark contrast to the Tea Party. But didn't he do that in 2008? Yes, but four years after Bush has left office a lot of the damage has been undone. Troops are coming home and defense spending is coming down. Barack Obama will finally have a chance to set the terms, led the charge, and frame the debate in ways the economic reality has constrained him from doing. We now know his capabilities as a leader and his faults, all too well.
In the meantime, as the 2012 draws near, I urge religious leaders across the country to use this period to point out the moral challenges facing this great nation with clarity and purpose. We must work tirelessly to stand against those who would shred our nation's safety net while protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.